Recently I was lucky enough to win a Guild of Food Writers Award for my book, British Seasonal Food, and this week and next we are celebrating by publishing some of the recipes here.
July is the best month for homegrown produce. There are so many colourful ingredients around now that shopping for dinner is effortless; great British produce like peas, beans and summer berries are in abundance.
Beans and peas are true tastes of summer. Apart from their natural ability to accompany both fish and meat, they are perfect in wonderful summery salads. At the start of a meal, I like to have a bowl of young peas in their pods on the table to pop and snack on while having drinks – it gives a real sense of the time of year.
One of my big midsummer favourites is crab. The closest most kids are willing to come to fresh crab is fishing them out of rock pools, but we ate them regularly when I was little. Local fisherman would leave them in the porch, along with the occasional lobster if we were lucky.
When I left school, I worked in the Bridport Arms on the beach in West Bay. It was the waitresses' job to prise out the meat from the crabs for salads and sandwiches. The bones and shells went straight into the bins, which seems ridiculous to me now. They should be destined for the stockpot – they hold too much flavour to waste.
I also used to catch spider crabs in my prawn drop net as a kid, but we were taught to kill them and throw them back. In those days, they were so prolific they plagued the local fishermen's lobster pots. Now, of course, I value the spider crab, but I have a hunch that it will be some time yet before it really catches on in this country.
Even now, I can recall the aroma as my grandfather opened the sliding doors of his greenhouses when they were full of tomatoes. Year in, year out, he grew just the one variety – Moneymaker. Supper was often a simple plate of tomatoes with Sarson's vinegar, salt and buttered bread.
It's well worth growing your own tomatoes if you can, particularly as it's not easy to find homegrown produce with the decline of commercial tomato-growing in the UK over the years. No doubt when cheaper Dutch and other foreign imports hit the market, many of our growers were forced out of business. Thankfully, a few of our growers are now experimenting with heritage tomato varieties which are interesting and full of flavour. We should all encourage them to grow these interesting varieties in order to get British tomatoes firmly back on the menu.
Tomatoes on toast with aged Lancashire cheese
A slice of hot buttered toast with ripe tomatoes is a simple, pleasurable snack, especially if you use one of the tasty heritage varieties, or a large juicy beefsteak tomato, such as Marmande or ox heart. Any ripe, tasty tomatoes will do though, and I'd recommend a sourdough loaf as a base to really set the dish off.
The Kirkhams up in Lancashire produce great Lancashire cheese (mrskirkhams.com) and their mature cheese works a treat with sweet tomatoes, especially on toast like this.
4 large ripe tomatoes
1tbsp rapeseed oil, plus extra to drizzle
4 slices of sourdough bread, cut about 1cm thick
1 garlic clove, peeled and roughly crushed
A few sprigs of thyme, leaves only
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
100-120g mature Lancashire cheese (preferably Kirkhams)
Wood sorrel leaves or chives, to garnish
Cut 4 slices from the centre of each tomato, about 5mm thick, and put to one side. Chop up the rest of the tomatoes and place in a saucepan with the rapeseed oil, garlic and thyme leaves.
Season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring, over a gentle heat for about 2-3 minutes, until the tomatoes disintegrate into a pulp.
Toast the sourdough bread on both sides, then spread the tomato mixture on top and arrange 4 slices of tomato on each slice of toast. With a swivel vegetable peeler or sharp knife, cut the cheese into shavings and arrange on the tomatoes. Drizzle with a little rapeseed oil and scatter with wood sorrel leaves or chives to serve.
Tomato and lovage salad
If you have a good selection of tasty tomatoes, you really don't need to do anything too clever to them. Just a few spring onions and some torn lovage leaves is enough to turn them into a simple but special salad. Like basil, lovage has a way of working itself into dishes to give them a real lift, but it can be overpowering and needs to be used in moderation. If you can't get hold of lovage (which is available in nurseries and specialist greengrocers) then celery leaves would also do the job.
300-400g mixed tomatoes
2tbsp finely chopped chives or spring onions
A few sprigs of lovage (or celery leaves)
A little malt vinegar, to drizzle
2tbsp extra virgin rapeseed oil, or to taste
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Cut the tomatoes into chunks, leaving small ones whole. Arrange on serving plates; tear the lovage leaves over them. Drizzle with vinegar and oil as desired, and season to taste.
Salt beef and green bean salad
700-800g salted beef brisket or salted ox cheeks, soaked overnight in cold water
2 onions, peeled and quartered
2 carrots, peeled and trimmed
10 black peppercorns
4 garlic cloves, peeled
A few sprigs of thyme
100g French beans, trimmed
2 large shallots, peeled and finely chopped
For the vinaigrette
1tbsp good-quality tarragon vinegar
2tsp Dijon mustard
1 garlic clove, peeled
3tbsp olive oil
3tbsp vegetable or corn oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
To make the vinaigrette, put all of the ingredients into a jar. Shake it and leave to infuse overnight at room temperature.
Rinse the salt beef and put it into a saucepan with the onions, carrots, peppercorns, garlic and thyme. Cover well with water, bring to the boil and skim off the scum from the surface, then simmer, covered, for about 2 hours, topping up the water if necessary. It's difficult to put an exact cooking time on cuts of meat like this, so check it after 2 hours and if it's not tender, cook for another half an hour or so. Leave to cool in the liquid, but don't refrigerate.
Cook the beans in boiling salted water for 3-4 minutes until tender, then drain well. Remove the beef from the cooking liquid and carve into 5mm-thick slices, breaking these up into bite-sized pieces. Mix with the beans and shallots, season to taste and dress well with the vinaigrette.
Spider crab on toast
Serves 4 as a snack
Spider crab is one of those undiscovered seafood pleasures – at least in the UK. It can be prepared and eaten in exactly the same way as a standard brown crab, but don't expect to get quite as much white meat out of it. You'll also need to work a little harder at getting that white meat out of the body crevices.
Fresh crab on toast – from a spider or brown crab – makes a delicious snack, or you can serve it as a starter for a dinner party with perhaps a small herb salad. I would recommend a sourdough bread here to give a nice crisp, full-flavoured base for the crab.
2 spider crabs, each about 600g, or 1 crab, 1kg or more, white and brown meat extracted
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
1-2tbsp good-quality mayonnaise
Squeeze of lemon juice, to taste
4 slices of bread, about 1cm thick
Softened butter, for spreading
Season the white and brown crab separately and mix the brown meat with a little mayonnaise and lemon juice, or just mix the whole lot together if you like.
Toast the bread on both sides and butter one side. If you've kept the brown and white meat separate, spread the brown on first and the white on top, or if it's mixed simply spoon on top of the toasts. Serve at once.
Chilled pea and lovage soup
1tbsp vegetable or corn oil
1 leek (both green and white parts), washed and roughly chopped
1.2 litres vegetable stock
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
450g freshly podded peas (or frozen ones will do)
10-12 lovage leaves (or celery leaves)
Heat the oil in a pan and gently cook the leek for 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally until soft. Add the stock, season and simmer gently for 10-12 minutes.
Tip in the peas and simmer for another 5 minutes or until tender (frozen peas will only need a couple of minutes once they come back to a simmer). Add the lovage and immediately take off the heat.
Whiz the mixture in a blender until smooth, then taste. Adjust the seasoning and blend in some more lovage if you think the soup needs it. Pass through a sieve if you wish (some blenders do a better job than others). Serve hot or cold.
This dish comes from Nigel Hawarth of The Three Fishes and Northcote Manor in Lancashire. He served it up at one of his annual food festivals, where he invites chefs from around Britain and further afield to cook for the evening. It can also be made with sea trout.
1 salmon fillet (with skin), about 750g-1kg, trimmed
80g black treacle
1tsp fennel seeds, crushed
Grated zest of 1 lemon
50g sea salt
1tbsp English mustard
2tsp coarsely ground black pepper
Lay the salmon fillet skin-side down on a sheet of clingfilm. Lightly warm the treacle in a bowl over a pan of simmering water, just until it is runny. Mix the fennel seeds, lemon zest, salt, mustard, pepper and treacle together. Spread evenly over the salmon and wrap well in more clingfilm. Place on a tray (still skin-side down) and leave at room temperature for 1 hour, then refrigerate for 48 hours.
When ready to serve, remove the clingfilm and scrape away any excess liquid and marinade from the salmon. Pat dry with kitchen paper.
Cut at a 90-degree angle to the skin into even slices, about 3mm thick. Serve with pickled cucumber (see below) or just some good bread and a leafy salad.
1 medium cucumber
1tbsp good-quality white wine vinegar
Grated zest of 1 lemon
2tbsp olive oil
2tbsp chopped dill
Cut the cucumber into 3mm dice and place in a bowl. Add the other ingredients and toss to mix. Cover and leave to stand for about 45 minutes before serving.
Recipes from 'British Seasonal Food' by Mark Hix (published by Quadrille), £25, or to order a copy at a special price, including p&p, call Independent Books Direct on 08700 798 897